Yes, Sunscreen Is Safe. And, You Should Use It.
With the recent negative publicity, I have often been asked: Is sunscreen safe? Recently, there has been some talk about the safety, or lack thereof, of sunscreen. However, we’re here to tell you one thing: sunscreen is safe. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article in May of 2019 that implied some sunscreen ingredients, like avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule are absorbed into the blood stream, citing that maximum use of sunscreen could be harmful to health because of this bloodstream absorption.
Some people can interpret the article in such a way that suggests that the authors are cautioning people against using chemical sunscreens. This is, however, not the case.
Chemicals that we apply to our skin topically, like those found in sunscreen, lotions, ointments, and creams, can, at times, be at risk of being absorbed into the bloodstream. And even if they are absorbed into the bloodstream, we have no evidence that they can cause harm. But even so, the amount we apply matters. The authors used a maximal use test, meaning they had participants apply sunscreen to 75% of their body four times per day for four days. While this study does indicate that more research on the absorption of these sunscreen ingredients is needed, it failed to do one thing: use real-world stipulations to conduct the study. The average person, even the person who applies extra sunscreen, is not applying sunscreen to 75% of their body four times a day. So, please don’t jump to the conclusion that when you apply chemical sunscreen they are going into you blood.
In fact, looking at this maximal use data at face value could actually be dangerous because some may be tempted to avoid using sunscreen on unprotected skin. One bit of sound advice however, is to wear clothing on as much skin as you can on a regular basis, so that you would not need to consider applying sunscreen on 75% of your body four times a day. It is important to think of sunscreen as a supplement to where clothing is not covering our skin, rather than as a cure all to apply everywhere while we walk around in a bikini or speedo type swimsuit.
Yes, this study did show that if you use sunscreen this frequently, the chemicals can be in your bloodstream. It should be noted, however, that, as of yet, no one has been harmed by these sunscreens—the sunscreens that have been used for decades. If someone did use sunscreen as frequently as this, the presence of these chemicals in the bloodstream has yet to show an adverse effect.
But, after all I have said, If the FDA report still worries you, consider using non-chemical sunscreens. You can choose from physical sunscreens that contain ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These physical blockers simply sit on the skin and form an armor-like protection against the sun—unlike chemical sunscreens that interact with the skin to protect you.
The take home:
Use sunscreen prudently. You don’t have to apply sunscreen to 75% of your body four times a day for four days. That’s a little excessive for most people. If you’re worried about these chemicals entering your blood, don’t apply it to maximum use.
Wear clothing & hats to cover exposed areas. You don’t need to apply as much sunscreen if you supplement your protection with SPF clothing, hats, and some good old fashioned shade.
Consider other choices like physical sunscreens. When it comes to sunscreen—as with almost anything else related to your health—you have options. Physical sunscreens don’t get absorbed into your bloodstream. If you’re really worried about the chemicals in chemical sunscreen, look for a sunscreen whose active ingredients contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Moral of the story: protect yourself, USE SUNSCREEN, and be safe.
If you are concerned about the use of sunscreen or want professional advice about which sunscreen is best for you and your family, consult a dermatologist.
Matta MK, Zusterzeel R, Pilli NR, et al. Effect of Sunscreen Application Under Maximal Use Conditions on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. Published online May 06, 2019321(21):2082–2091. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5586
The information contained in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute professional medical advice.